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Platforms like Twitter and Facebook were created with the intention of bringing people together, and since their beginnings, they’ve facilitated connections that would otherwise be impossible. But the promise of these open communication platforms has become more complicated as bots enter the mix.

Bots built without good intentions, human assistance, and strategic planning can become, intentionally or not, lightning rods for drama. Look at the stories of racist chatbots and bots with bad manners. These can act in nefarious ways that contradict the original values and intent of the technology.

Situations like these are avoidable, though, and bots can actually bring faster, better communication and customer service to brands and people alike. To achieve the intended goal of bots, brands must ensure their strategies support automated responses as a first step to the customer service process — not a substitute for human assistance.

Better, faster service

To help more people per agent in less time, Evernote leveraged a social media management platform to develop a scalable social customer care strategy. The resulting chatbot, which interacts with customers through the @EvernoteHelps Twitter handle, saw an 80 percent increase in customers helped on Twitter per week, with an 18 percent decrease in replies sent per conversation.

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Why does this bot work? First, it was engineered to enhance the customer experience and took into account the sensitive nature of customer care on public platforms like Twitter. Second, the strategy easily escalates automated experiences to human assistance when necessary. And third, the team working with the technology follows a consistent strategy and workflow.

Altogether, these characteristics inspire rich and productive exchanges, but still quickly and discreetly resolve customer issues. Likewise, the technology escalates queries to human interaction at the most opportune times, allowing agents to again handle a diverse range of requests faster and all in one system. Despite the threat employees perceive from automation, when scaled, bots are really one of best options brands have to build lasting relationships with customers online.

Transparency and teamwork

As businesses use social media platforms to seek out greater enterprise value and bottom line benefits, they must pursue responsible strategies to automate aspects of their communications.

Here, responsible means an open blend of bots and humans. Sixty-seven percent of consumers are already using chatbots for customer service needs, yet over half (56 percent) still report a preference for human assistance. Interest in chatbots is growing, particularly among younger people, but effective enterprise solutions still require a collaborative effort from all parties involved.

Humans will, consciously or not, incrementally adjust to new bot technologies over time. This is the pattern of any emerging solution — even the iPhone once felt like a futuristic gadget.

However, humans and bots can work together to encourage faster consumer adoption. Fully automated conversations are not and should never be the goal. Rather, rule-based bots like Evernote’s can handle the early, repetitive stages of customer service interactions, and do so in real time. The technology can then provide agents with all the information and context they need to quickly address customer needs.

An important part of making this relationship work is revealing to users that they are indeed interacting with a bot and, importantly, why they’re doing so. While some businesses attempt to hide automation, people trust clarity in their service experiences. In some cases, they may be more impressed with a relevant combination of humans and bots.

Bots as a business enterprise

Put aside any lingering hesitations, because bot adoption is on the rise — 80 percent of businesses report existing or intended chatbot usage by 2020. Expectations for growth are backed by investments in chatbot technology, which grew 229 percent from 2015 to 2016.

To drive full ROI from this trend, enterprises must treat chatbot investments as an overarching business responsibility, not a venture siloed to one or two departments.

The VPs and marketing directors tasked with making purchasing decisions and managing social teams — as well as the customer service directors and agency leads charged with training and optimizing a team of service agents –share the burden for this cross-team collaboration. As such, they must jointly invest in and prove the value of the kinds of external communication tools that share brand content, monitor team performance, report findings, facilitate social action in real time, and more.

Evernote and Twitter prove this is possible. Our world is made better when businesses and customers can communicate freely and easily. Open avenues for constant and diverse communications are the promise of digital, but such an environment invites stresses, too. When properly implemented and managed, bots can mitigate these issues and yield the greatest reward: loyal and happy customers.

Andrew Caravella is vice president of strategy and brand engagement at Sprout Social, a social media management platform.

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